The music of Peteris Vasks must be considered against the background of the socially and politically turbulent history of his home country Latvia. It frequently shifts through contrasting emotional states, with passages of sumptuous beauty sometimes followed by disjointed and dramatic sounds. According to Vasks, all three of the works for violin and orchestra featured here represent the polarity between optimistic hope for a better future and an anxious concern for the modern world. Included are the fantasia Vox Amoris, the concerto Tala gaisma (Distant Light), Vasks' first and most extensive work for violin and string orchestra and the tone poem Vientulais engelis (Lonely Angel). All are performed by the exceptional violinist Alina Pogostkina, superbly accompanied by the Sinfonietta Riga under the direction of Juha Kangas.
Franz Liszt composed little chamber music, though the handful of pieces he wrote or arranged for violin and piano represent his enduring interest in that combination, from the Grand Duo concertant (1835/49) to La lugubre gondola (1882-83). This program by violinist Ulf Wallin and pianist Roland Pöntinen offers those pieces and five more selections that demonstrate Liszt's fondness for passionate, long-breathed melodies in the Magyar vein and turbulent accompaniments that allowed for virtuosity. The standout track of this hybrid SACD is the arrangement of the Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 (ca. 1850), which gives a full treatment to those characteristics, and provides Wallin and Pöntinen their most dazzling displays. While the moods of the surrounding pieces are for the most part lyrical and subdued, the performances are compelling and the sound of the recording is close-up and focused, with the presence and clarity of a recital.
Jazz pianist Keith Jarrett has recorded Bach before, on both piano and harpsichord. His interpretations are not jazz versions of Bach but are played straight. In this case you might say relatively straight, for Bach's sonatas for violin and keyboard, BWV 1014-1019, were written for a harpsichord and are generally played that way; somehow the ear is jarred more by the piano here than in Bach's solo keyboard music (which Jarrett has also recorded). Jarrett fans will find the evidence of his characteristic style not in rhythmic inflections toward jazz but in his way of sustaining notes, which is never excessive.
Like other European composers of his generation, Miklós Rósza, born in Hungary in 1907, found political and creative sanctuary in Hollywood, where he wrote concert music and many notable film scores. These three works clearly show that he never lost his roots in his native folk music. The violin concerto, a lush, romantic piece, was written at the urging of Jascha Heifetz and is tailored to his and his instrument's strengths, with singing, soaring melodies, brilliant passage work, and a very effective cadenza. Later, Heifetz and cellist Gregor Piatigorsky asked Rósza to write a piece for them; the "Theme and Variations" is the slow movement of a longer work. It is beautifully written for both instruments; based on a Hungarian melody, the variations are wonderfully inventive and varied in mood, character, and expression. The Cello Concerto too is extremely difficult and virtuosic, often quite wild and aggressive, and full of contrasts. The orchestration is excellent throughout, but not too heavy.
John Holloway and Davitt Moroney have set up a musically rewarding partnership in these brilliantly inventive works, furthermore adding to their programme the two lovely sonatas for violin and continuo long attributed to Bach, and justly so. In both of them they are joined by Susan Sheppard (continuo cello). For these sonatas Moroney has preferred a chamber organ to a harpsichord.